by John Bloner, Jr.
You’re probably familiar with the Muses, those Greek goddesses of the arts and science, whom many through the ages have called upon for inspiration, yet you may not know of the Muses of Mirth, birthed here in southeastern Wisconsin by the multi-talented Monne Haug of Kenosha, WI to not only inspire clever souls but to feed them, too.
Over a decade ago, Monne welcomed a few friends to her home for lunch and creative play. As word spread of fun times and good food there, more women showed up. These gatherings grew to include field trips, exhibits, collaborations, and tomfoolery. Oh, there’s been lots of tomfoolery.
They’ve paraded in Knights Templar coats and gowns …
And they’ve done old Leonardo one better when they restaged his painting, The Last Supper, with Bobby Childers filling in for the King of Kings.
These are not dour women who are afraid to get their hands dirty. Monne can weld, sew leather, paint, sculpt, wield a hammer and trowel mortar for ceramic mosaics.
Monne’s friends are no wallflowers either. Mary Mollerskov says, “I grew up quite shy in a quiet, small family. Now, I treasure and am drawn toward friends who are open and know how to have a good time.”
As they say in New Orleans, Laissez les bons temps rouler!
Racine, WI artist Terry Evans knows how to let the good times roll. In sixth grade, she earned quarters from the boys by drawing pictures of boob-a-licious femmes. As a young adult, she managed to eat well while never having to cook. She convinced restaurant owners in Waukegan, IL to allow her to paint their storefront windows in exchange for a substantial food tab.
Over the past decade, she’s organized many Muses of Mirth activities, including gallery exhibits, postcard exchanges, and studio tours, as well as published several periodicals, featuring Muses’ art. With the the help of Samira Gdisis of the Black-Eyed Press, she put together The Power of the Muse display at Kenosha’s Northside Library.
In pre-Covid days, Terry welcomed Muses’ members to her home, a Racine , WI warehouse transformed into wonderland, filled from floor to high ceiling with vintage dolls, roadside metal signs, antique cabinetry, clocks, art made by local artists, globes, a dirigible bearing the name of the family’s long haired chihuahua, Ripley, and a custom-made fifth-wheel wooden trailer with stained glass windows, dubbed the Wayzless. It’s a grand museum, considering the word, museum, in its original context, defines a shrine for the Greek Muses.
Recruitment of Muses’ members takes place by word-of-mouth. Racine artist Mary Nelson met Terry Evans during an art show in Kenosha about a half-dozen years ago and was invited to join. Mary says, “The Muses allow me to be myself, and they support whatever I want to do or want to try in the arena of art-making.” She began making art at any early age when her Grandma Helen lifted her onto her lap before her giant drafting table, and put a Venus HB pencil in her hand.
Mary continues to draw with this brand of pencil, which she calls her Helens, in honor of her grandma. She reflects, “They bring me back to the love we shared, and provide memories of her long gray hair, soft cashmere sweaters, woolen skirts, and bowling shoes.”
The Muses are like sisters. They come together to share laughs, a meal, and art tips. They also lend a shoulder in hard times. In 2013, the arts community of Kenosha and Racine lost two vibrant souls in Franco Tarsitano and Marilyn Sterling. Franco worked and inspired everyone at Lemon Street Gallery. Terry Evans recalls when he hung a Christmas tree from the ceiling there. He was also responsible for curating memberships and hosting art critiques. He nudged Beth Dary to apply for membership as a gallery artist. Today, Beth serves as Lemon Street’s Executive Director.
Marilyn Sterling was a beloved members of this sisterhood. Terry eulogized her, saying, “You gave us your art literally, bought a sewing machine when someone needed it, shared your house with food and drinks, your costumes and characters, and your friendship with all of us.” She also provided Terry with a major award, which stands in a place of honor in her home.
A few years ago, the Muses brought me into their fold as an honorary Mirth-maker, joining fellow Kenosha artist Tom Clark and Racine’s Todd Krewal. These gals have brought joy and inspiration to my life through their effervescent selves. They are an inclusive group with a can-do spirit for each other’s projects. Collectively or individually, they collaborate with others, including my Krazines ensemble and with the senior art group, The Geezers.
Soon after my induction, I climbed aboard the back porch of the Wayzless trailer in 2018 at Terry Evans’ place for the photo below. The group in this image represents only a fraction of the Muses’ population. Their Facebook group has over 100 members, who, I’m sure, are eager to get together, make art and share a lot of laughs, once the pandemic becomes history.
My thanks to Mary Nelson, Mary Mollerskov and Mary Nelson for helping me with this article and to other members of the Muses for the photos. Last year, Terry and I worked together on a limited edition zine about the Muses of Mirth, featuring their artwork, along with tributes to the late journalist Molly Ivins. She would have loved the Muses, I’m sure.
Thank you for reading. If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, I’d love to hear them. If you’d like to learn about my art-making and creative writing group, the Krazines, click HERE. We welcome artists of all ages and talent levels and publish a monthly, full-color magazine that keeps growing in size and in the number of contributors. Our most recent one features 35 artists and authors in its 64 pages.
See you next week.